The big LGBTI news for East and Southeast Asia is that Taiwan has apparently won the race to be the first nation in this conservative region to mandate same-sex marriages. On May 24 the Council of Grand Justices ruled in favor of gay and lesbian marriages, or rather ruled against Article 972 of the Civil Code that was preventing them. The legislature has two years to decide, we are told, whether to let the court’s ruling stand, which would simply remove the definition of marriage as between a man and women from the law and therefore equalize all marriages, or to pass some other law which might stipulate some exceptions for same sex marriages, such as the right to adopt or raise surrogate children. Polls show that 71% of Taiwanese favor letting gay and lesbian couples get married. Large Pride parades and rallies in the past few years have made the issue front page news without major protests. This year’s Pride Parade in Taipei promises to be the biggest yet. [Thanks to Carrie Kellenberger for the picture from Taipei that accompanies this article.]
Thailand, up to a few years ago, has been the betting favorite to be the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage and equal rights. Tiny steps have been made, such as the right for Trans women to be treated equally by the military, rather than being branded for life as “mentally ill.” Just this month, activists have been negotiating with the government with some apparent success to get fair treatment in the forthcoming constitution and new laws being drafted. Other activists have lamented that dealing with the military regime is like “polishing the military’s boots with the rainbow flag” (a phrase from a very recent issue of the Bangkok Post English language newspaper). As Taiwan takes the last step toward the finish line, it looks like Thailand will be among the “also ran”.
It could be worse. This week the authorities in Banda Aceh, a conservative province of Indonesia subjected a young gay couple to 83 strokes of the cane while the crowd of thousands cheered, and the police in Jakarta arrested a hundred in a raid of a gay venue for having a “gay party”. [The news picture is by CNN] Regional headlines are saying that Indonesia’s moderate secularism, a Muslim model, is crumbling.
Malaysia is likely to be impacted by what happens in Indonesia, but in the meantime LGBTI progress is doubtful. Singapore this week declared that the government’s position is neither for nor against LGBTI rights, but foreigners will be banned from attending or participating in an intended Pink rally in 2017 that has drawn tens of thousands. The Philippines has been waging a war on drugs, with the same deadly excesses such wars usually incur, and has been distracted by an ISIS take-over of a town in Mindanao, resulting in the declaration of martial law for the province. Reports from the barrios are that LGBTI advocates are seeking shelter. Myanmar persists in operating under the same century and a half British laws that put Oscar Wilde in prison. Brunei has declared that Sharia law will be applied to homosexuals, meaning that the automatic penalty is stoning to death, although no such have occurred.
The only other gay news from this part of the world this past week is that South Korea put a army captain military officer in jail for consensual sex with another man; the sentence was suspended. China shut down the dating app., Rela, the world’s largest lesbian website with 6.5 million users, in the wake of the Taiwan news.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.